When Cara, an antiques dealer, discovers an old diary in an estate she’s working on, she gets drawn into the story of the diary’s writer: Louise, who falls in love with a RAF pilot during WWII and, tired of small-town life, joins the army. Louise’s intelligence gets her a job as a gunner girl, one of the team of five women who do all the math and calculations to aim guns at German planes and support the (always male) soldiers who load the guns and do the actual shooting. Louise’s romance with Paul isn’t super smooth — he’s never available to meet up and he isn’t happy about her being a soldier — but her work is very rewarding and there’s a strong camaraderie within her team.
I found Louise’s story very compelling. I knew a bit about women code breakers, medics and ambulance drivers during WWII, but I don’t think I’ve ever read before about gunner girls. I love how kickass brave and intelligent these women are. I also love that while they meet some initial sexism from commanding officers who are unsure of women’s capacity to fight, the men in their unit quickly show them respect. After a sexist remark from someone else, one of Louise’s male colleagues tells her she and the other women will easily prove that jerk wrong, and I liked that the story did include men who saw these women soldiers as equals.
I also really like how Louise’s romance was handled. Too often, we see stories of women pitting themselves against each other over a man, and I like how mature the women in this story were in how they handled a difficult situation.
The present-day story was pretty good as well. I found Cara’s romance with her neighbour Liam to be sweet, and I like how supportive he was of her interest in the diary. I also really like the backstory about Cara’s ex-husband. He was a fascinating character — a weak man with grandiose ambitions who couldn’t quite handle failure — and I like that the reason they broke up was because of this kind of weakness rather than the usual cheating trope.
I did find Cara a bit annoying in how persistent she was in demanding her grandmother share her experiences during the war. The big secret turned out not to be as horrific as I thought, but I can imagine how traumatic people’s war-time experiences can be, and I don’t at all blame Cara’s grandmother for not wanting to relive that part of her past. I recognize Cara’s interest about her past and her family, but I thought it was pretty selfish to demand her grandmother relive a potentially painful past just to satisfy her own curiosity.
Overall, The Light over London is an entertaining WWII novel. Dual narrative novels are often touch-and-go for me, but I thought it worked nicely here.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.